Tsumura Interview on the Quake's Aftermath
"God's Door Opened!"/Interviews with Kobe Residents
Following is an anthology of comments and accounts by those who
suffered in the Great Hanshin Earthquake. It was compiled by Takashi
Tsumura, a writer and practitioner of Chinese healing who lives
in Kobe. While the quake, its effects and aftermath were extensively
reported in the mass media, this is different in the way it presents
a collection of personal views and perspectives. Tsumura gathered
the comments for a year, beginning directly after the quake struck.
- Having nightmares and crying in fear in one's sleep are ways of
reducing anxiety. They help reduce people's stress.
[Dr. Taniguchi, Dept. Of Psychoneurology, Osaka Kaisei Hospital]
- The nightmares they have aren't necessarily of their actual earthquake
experiences. More often than not, they're about being robbed,
about ghosts and fires, whatever scared these people most before
[Article in The Kobe Shimbun, April 11, 1995]
- Children play "The Big One" all the time. By reliving the day
of the quake and the following days when they had to fetch water
in containers, they learn to live with the memories they so much
want to forget.
[A childcare volunteer]
- When it comes to mental self-care, children seem to be the stronger.
Perhaps it's because they replay the exerience among themselves.
[A pediatrician, Kobe Central Civic Hospital]
Evacuation drills serve as occasions to "replay the experience."
This is role-playing. By giving themselves the chance to replay
what occurred again and again, a form of healing takes place.
Not to forget, but to confront what happened; and to not stop
seeking the true meaning of the event helps in the whole city's
- They should have kept Sannomiya Station in its ruined condition.
It would have been like the Hiroshima Dome.
[A businessman interviewed on a temporary shuttle bus service]
- I went around insisting that the collapsed highway should be preserved
and converted into a museum. No one listened. But look at the
Tower of Pisa and all the tourism revenue it generates. Think
of a leaning Kobe Flower Road Building, or the Meiji Life Building!
- When I see all these superficial reconstruction projects I want
to shout, "No, wait!" I get so frustrated I feel like setting
them on fire. We should scrap all that irrelevant resurfacing
and start all over .... from the ruins.
[A volunteer in Nagata Ward]
voices-2 ["God's Door Opened!"]
- I was driving on the highway when I suddenly saw a bright mass
of light coming from the southwest; it swept right through me,
toward Rokko. I've never seen anything so intense. When the light
passed through I felt transparent.
- I ran outside the instant it struck. The sky was red. I thought
it was dawn. Then it was suddenly pitch black again.
It was the religious leader Wanisaburo Deguchi who said that "Kobe"
means "God's Door." Many who didn't even know that were heard
to say, "God's door opened!"
- The stars couldn't have been more beautiful. Even with the full
moon that night, the sky was filled with bright stars. I knew
then that those who had been buried by the quake had become those
[Chuo Ward resident whose family was buried in the quake]
- The moon on the 17th was definitely red. Everyone says so.
[Residents of Higashi-Nada]
Experiencing the great force of Nature, people were filled with
mystical, extraordinary emotions.
- Claims that the earthquake was triggered by the construction of
the Akashi Bridge have proved to be false.
[A government statement ]
The City of Kobe convened a press conference to deny a belief
many people shared that the quake was the result of the construction
work for the Akashi Bridge, one of whose ends lie near the epicenter.
- See, Kobe's been punished for the way we've been living.
- If the quake had happened two hours later, at 7:45 instead of
5:45, the death toll would have been 500,000 instead of 5,000.
I'm not saying 5,000 is a small number. But I am saying that the
quake warned us. It chose that time. If we do not heed its lesson,
all those lost lives will have been wasted.
[A volunteer in Hyogo Ward]
voices-3 [Water-Fetching Days]
- I wonder what all the exhiliration was about?
- I was in the water queue and spoke with the guy living next door
to me in my condo. It was the first time we'd ever spoken to each
other. He was very nice, and I had to wonder why we'd never spoken
- While I was in the line for water, I realized for the first time
that there were people from the Philippines, India, Peru and Canada,
all living in the same complex.
At every condo and apartment complex, people were meeting for
the first time, digging out bodies, helping one another. What
would the next chapter in their stories be?
- I really regret buying that washing machine. That guzzler consumes
80 liters a cycle. That's four trips with a 20-liter plastic container.
- A 75-year-old physician died of a heart attack while climbing
the staircase to his 11th floor condominium. He was carrying water.
[Article in the Kobe Shimbun]
- The entire city has turned into an ashram. Most people think an
ashram is some sort of Indian yoga school. Actually, it's a place
where people learn what it is to be human, where they perform
difficult but essential tasks like fetching water. Even rich people
with servants spend time each year in an ashram so as to never
forget what it is to be human.
[A musician who returned to Kobe from India]
- I made friends for the first time with the Self-Defense Forces.
Their sign said "SDF Shower Platoon."
- When those dusty green tanks came in to the schoolyard I was convinced
it was a coup. "They've done it at last!" I thought. But then
they put up tents for people to take baths. One time I was in
a tub, and a young woman called out, "How is it? Not too hot,
I hope." They should do this bath service all over the world.
- The yakuza [Japanese gangsters] were the first to come in and
set up bath services. They were followed by the religious cultists.
You know, that guy who claims to be the Buddha himself. They put
up banners and flags and baths. It was a tough choice. I stood
there for quite a while unable to choose, wondering which bath
would lead to salvation.
The quick response and efficient delivery of much-needed goods
by the Yamaguchi Gumi yakuza group received coverage in the international
press. But that only lasted a short while, and then they were
gone. The Vietnamese in tents in Koma Park in Nagata Ward were
frightened by rumors of a coup d'etat led by the Self-Defense
Forces. In March, a huge banner was set up across a major pedestrian
walkway. It read, "We thank you, SDF." But it was gone within
a few days, and it still remains a mystery as to who put it up
and who took it down.
- The water-supply trucks were from Fukuoka. Then one day they stopped
coming and were replaced by trucks from Suginami Ward in Tokyo.
It made us all wonder where all that water was coming from.
- I only began to seriously think about the water I drink once it
stopped coming out of the tap.
- Caution: Do not use the drains in your home. The municipal sewage
system is still cut off.
[Notice at a Port Island apartment complex]
- Before your bowel movements, spread a newspaper over the toilet.
Wrap the feces and take them to the waste disposal site afterwards.
[Sign in civic hall bathroom]
- Corrugated cardboard boxes, if you know how, make good toilets.
Did you know that?
- We tried the EM liquid. It took care of the odor nicely. I was
- Please sprinkle EM solution after use.
[Sign in Higashi-Nada Ward temporary toilet]
"EM" stands for "Effective Microbes," and was popular for some
time among livestock farmers. It was used as a toilet deodorant
in the most heavily damaged areas of Kobe. It creates an odor
resembling ripe fruit.
- Whenever I'm in Osaka and I see high-school girls merrily flushing
the toilet without a care in the world, I want to go up to them
and shout, "Don't you know what you're doing?!" They should try
carrying all that water they're flushing sometime.
[A housewife in Chuo Ward]
- The problem goes back to our having only a single water supply
system that mixes water from different sources. The Rokko area
has enough water to supply the entire city. That could account
for the drinking water system. Then the water from Lake Biwa and
the Yodo River catchment could form a second system for household
usage, in other words, for washing and toilets. This way, too,
we wouldn't have to use too much chlorine. The Rokko water is
fairly clean, so that would require minimal disinfecting. The
Yodo water wouldn't be used for drinking, so again we wouldn't
need much chlorination. And, too, with two systems, we'd always
have one to rely on if the other broke down for some reason. We
have an excellent opportunity to restructure our entire water
supply system, but no one is paying any attention. What's more,
people are buying bottled water for both drinking and cooking
because the quality of the tap water is low. That's not right.
[A local assembly member]
- Once the water supply returned, people stopped talking to each
other. It's like we all returned to our plastic capsules.
[A housewife in Nishinomiya]
- Maybe they should turn off the water supply for a week every year
beginning on January 17. Turning off the traffic lights might
be an idea too, but I suppose that'd be too dangerous.
[A taxi driver in Nada Ward]
Discussion about a one-minute "lights out" on the anniversary
of the quake is going on. A one-week "Water Out" would probably
be more effective to make people remember and to "Replay the Big
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["earth" A Sensibility for Living in a World in Constant Flux
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